Track driving tips: how to drive on track

Whether you’re a first-timer or a track-day regular, driving on a circuit is great fun

Driving on a track is not something most of us do too regularly. But as enthusiasts, it’s something we all fancy trying at some stage, especially given the increasing numbers of vehicles on our roads, and the unceasing expansion of the speed/safety camera networks.

But how do you approach your first-ever foray into the world of track days? And, even if you’re a seasoned pro, is there anything new you can learn before your next one?

You never stop learning in life, they say, and there are always new techniques you can think about and learn from. If you’re a nervous first-timer, fear not. Driving on a track can be about as good as it gets on four wheels, just as long as you stick to a few golden rules.

These are: make sure your car is well and truly up for its day on track before you set off. So check the tyres, brakes and lights; turn up with a full tank of fuel, because on a track you’ll burn through it faster than you’d ever thought possible; and make sure there’s nothing in the boot or cabin that isn’t needed when you’re out there on the circuit. The last thing you want during your first ever lap of Brands Hatch is to hear the toolbox you forgot to leave in the garage smashing itself and your boot to pieces.

Alternatively, you can hire a track-day car, or just go to a circuit day where the organisers provide the vehicles for you, in which case most of the hard work on the cars will be done on your behalf. The former is the most expensive way to go, whereas with the latter you’ll never be fully let loose in the car, so you won’t experience the full joy of driving round a track all by yourself without having to follow an instructor. It’ll be fun if you’re a genuine first-timer, but you won’t get the same thrill as you would if taking your own car.

Start slowly, gradually get quicker

Whichever way you approach it, driving on a track can be terrifying until you gain a bit of confidence, and become more familiar with the circuit and the way a car behaves on it. It’s then that the purest form of driving enjoyment will either reveal itself in all its glory and you’ll be hooked, or you’ll leave the track grinning, but feeling like you’ve scared yourself half to death. In which case, fair enough, at least you tried.

The key things to remember when driving on a track are: stick rigidly to the rules of the day, especially the ones about overtaking. Don’t try and break the lap record on either your first or last lap, or any of the other laps in between. Start slowly and gradually get quicker throughout the day. Take your time to work out the nuances of the track, having ideally watched an on-board video of the circuit on YouTube. Relax, and enjoy yourself without getting too carried away; you’ll get much more out of your time on track if you leave with a smile on your face rather than a befuddled frown. 

Most of all, really concentrate on what you are trying to do in the car. Don’t worry too much about what other people are up to, but don’t switch off from them completely because you’ll almost certainly get red-flagged, meaning you’ll be told to leave the track and be given a stern talking to by officials.

Pick nice, early braking points into all the corners to begin with, then trim a couple of metres off those points each lap as the fear subsides and your confidence grows – up to a point where you’ve still got a safety buffer of several metres into each corner. Your brakes will probably start to pass their best after just a few flying laps, though they’ll come back again if you let them cool down properly between stints. So rather than staying out for a 15-lap stint, do five or six laps and think about where you’re getting it right and wrong while you have a cup of coffee. 

When you’re back out on track, get on the power as early as you can towards the exit of each corner, but not so early that you have to back off because you’re running out of room at the exit. Use the brakes and throttle smoothly but aggressively; smoothness is the holy grail on a track, and applies to every single aspect of your driving. So turn into corners with authority, but be calm and be gentle with your inputs. Try to pick visual markers to hit on each and every lap for your braking point, your turn-in point, your apex point and your exit point, where you should already be on full throttle. 

Get these four fairly simple things clear in your head and get better at nailing them consistently, and it really does then become a case of joining the dots, while also keeping an eye in the mirror for the bloke on a qualifier in the GT-R.  

Also, change gear manually if your car is an automatic, because you’ll have much more control over your trajectory, especially under braking. If you’re driving a manual, make sure those gearchanges are quick but smooth. 

Finally, keep an eye on your fuel level throughout the day. The number of people who run out of petrol on their way home after a track day, well, let’s just say we all do it. Once… 

Steve’s top tip

  • Do your homework by watching laps of a track on YouTube before you go. Pay attention to the briefing at the circuit, and then build it up gradually once you actually get out on the track

Have a go - our five top track day events

evo track days

Quadruple Supercar Thrill

  • With hot ride, Goodwood, £335 for three hours per person. Contact: 0345 640 8000, buyagift.co.uk

Formula 1 track days

Caterham Track Days

  • Various tracks, from £150. Contact: Want2Race? 01332 470057, want2race.co.uk

Introduction to Drifting

£200 Track Day voucher

  • Drive your own car, various tracks, £200 per person. Contact: 01376 809001, trackdays.co.uk

Now take a look at our top 10 best track cars...

Most Popular

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox
Dacia Duster gear lever
News

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox

With more drivers learning in autos and electric cars, the DVSA is looking to update the driving test so people can still drive manuals in future
16 Jun 2021
UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars
Electric car charging
News

UN report highlights ethical problems with electric cars

Analysis reveals lithium refining takes 65 per cent of Chilean region’s water, while 40,000 child miners dig for cobalt in DRC
14 Jun 2021
Fiat 500 vs MINI Electric vs Honda e
Fiat 500 vs Honda e vs MINI Electric
Car group tests

Fiat 500 vs MINI Electric vs Honda e

The new Fiat 500, MINI Electric and Honda e are three retro-inspired electric superminis - but which is best?
19 Jun 2021
New Audi Q4 e-tron 2021 review
Audi Q4 e-tron 2021  front
Audi Q4 e-tron

New Audi Q4 e-tron 2021 review

We get involved with the new all-electric Audi Q4 e-tron SUV on UK roads for the first time
17 Jun 2021
Ineos Grenadier prototype 2022 review
Ineos Grenadier prototype
Ineos Grenadier 4x4

Ineos Grenadier prototype 2022 review

Can the Ineos Grenadier really fill the mud-splattered void left by the old Land Rover Defender? We take a first drive in a prototype to find out...
15 Jun 2021
Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition revealed
Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition
Ford Puma

Fan-designed Ford Puma ST Gold Edition revealed

Ford unveils a special edition Puma ST, with a black and gold colour scheme chosen by Ford fans over social media
18 Jun 2021
New Nissan Qashqai 2021 review
Nissan Qashqai 2021
Nissan Qashqai

New Nissan Qashqai 2021 review

We get behind the wheel of the larger, more comfortable and higher-tech Nissan Qashqai SUV in the UK
16 Jun 2021
New 2021 Vauxhall Astra to offer plug-in hybrid power
Vauxhall Astra render
Vauxhall Astra

New 2021 Vauxhall Astra to offer plug-in hybrid power

The new Vauxhall Astra will get a plug-in hybrid powertrain and a more premium image - here’s how it could look
17 Jun 2021
New 2021 Hyundai Tucson N-Line hybrid and PHEV on sale now
Hyundai Tuscon N Line - front
Hyundai Tucson

New 2021 Hyundai Tucson N-Line hybrid and PHEV on sale now

Hyundai names price for new Tucson N-Line hybrid duo with plug-in offering 38 miles of electric running
18 Jun 2021
New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review
Skoda Enyaq iV 80 Sportline - front
Skoda Enyaq

New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review

The new Skoda Enyaq iV is the Czech firm’s first bespoke electric car and we've tested the full range on UK roads
10 Jun 2021
Tesla Model 3 police car all set for evaluation by UK emergency services
Tesla Model 3 police car - front
News

Tesla Model 3 police car all set for evaluation by UK emergency services

Tesla hopes to offer UK police forces a new zero-emission emergency responder option with the Model 3 police car
17 Jun 2021
Motorists think they can get away with driving offences due to lack of road police
police speed gun
News

Motorists think they can get away with driving offences due to lack of road police

Lack of road traffic police officers in the UK is making it easy for drivers to break the law, according to a survey of 15,500 British motorists
16 Jun 2021
'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'
Toyota Mirai opinion
Opinion

'The hydrogen underdog disruptor is back in town'

Mike Rutherford says hydrogen-powered cars could still be a frequent sight on UK roads
13 Jun 2021
New Mercedes-AMG S 63 spied in minimal camouflage
Mercedes-AMG S 63
Mercedes S-Class

New Mercedes-AMG S 63 spied in minimal camouflage

AMG will soon launch a tuned version of Mercedes’s flagship limousine, probably powered by a 603bhp twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 engine
18 Jun 2021